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Full text of "Ancient Classic Texts before 400 B.C."

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The Law 

By Hippocrates 

Translated by Francis Adams 


Medicine is of all the Arts the most noble; but, not withstanding, 
owing to the ignorance of those who practice it, and of those who, 
inconsiderately, form a judgment of them, it is at present far behind 
all the other arts. Their mistake appears to me to arise principally 
from this, that in the cities there is no punishment connected with 
the practice of medicine (and with it alone) except disgrace, and 
that does not hurt those who are familiar with it. Such persons are 
like the figures which are introduced in tragedies, for as they have 
the shape, and dress, and personal appearance of an actor, but are 
not actors, so also physicians are many in title but very few in reality. 


Whoever is to acquire a competent knowledge of medicine, ought to 

be possessed of the following advantages: a natural disposition; instruction; 

a favorable position for the study; early tuition; love of labor; 

leisure. First of all, a natural talent is required; for, when Nature 

opposes, everything else is in vain; but when Nature leads the way 

to what is most excellent, instruction in the art takes place, which 

the student must try to appropriate to himself by reflection, becoming 

an early pupil in a place well adapted for instruction. He must also 

bring to the task a love of labor and perseverance, so that the instruction 

taking root may bring forth proper and abundant fruits . 


Instruction in medicine is like the culture of the productions of 
the earth. For our natural disposition is, as it were, the soil; the 
tenets of our teacher are, as it were, the seed; instruction in youth 
is like the planting of the seed in the ground at the proper season; 
the place where the instruction is communicated is like the food imparted 
to vegetables by the atmosphere; diligent study is like the cultivation 
of the fields; and it is time which imparts strength to all things 
and brings them to maturity. 


Having brought all these requisites to the study of medicine, and 
having acquired a true knowledge of it, we shall thus, in traveling 
through the cities, be esteemed physicians not only in name but in 
reality. But inexperience is a bad treasure, and a bad fund to those 
who possess it, whether in opinion or reality, being devoid of self-reliance 
and contentedness, and the nurse both of timidity and audacity. For 
timidity betrays a want of powers, and audacity a want of skill. There 
are, indeed, two things, knowledge and opinion, of which the one makes 
its possessor really to know, the other to be ignorant. 


Those things which are sacred, are to be imparted only to sacred persons; 
and it is not lawful to import them to the profane until they have 
been initiated in the mysteries of the science.